Words by Rose Skelton
Hearing this new album by Zimbabwean funksters Mokoomba for the first time is a truly exciting experience, on a par with first coming across Congolese rapper-musician Baloji or Guinean kora rock band Ba Cissoko. The opening bars of the first track, ‘Njoka’, featuring the scratchy-but-melodic vocals of lead singer Mathias Muzaza, strident salsa piano chords, Congolese guitar riffs and a full-on brass section, will burst open your ears. And it only gets better. ‘Masangango’ opens with some desert blues riffs that sit beautifully alongside the half-singing, half-rapping vocals that pour from the singer’s mouth. A steady knocking of a drumstick and the tinkling of bells and beats keep the song in check, though the pent-up energy threatens to burst the dam. ‘Mwile’ is Afro-salsa that could have come out of West Africa, sitting at odds with the southern African vocals and keeping the listener intrigued. ‘Nimukonda’ is much more southern African in style, finally belying the group’s roots (though with an unexpected leap into a sweet ska-reggae beat).
Lead vocalist Muzaza grew up in Zimbabwe of Angolan-Zambian parents, part of the Tonga ethnic group who have their own distinct music and language. Much of this music draws on those influences, but these are also tracks with an urban edge and a truly pan-African sound in the best of ways. The music is bursting with raw energy and humour and is tied together excellently by the production and multi-instrumental skills of Ivorian bassist Manou Gallo, who plays on much of the CD. This is one album not to miss.